Chelsea’s Brazilian midfielder Willian (R) celebrates with Chelsea’s Spanish midfielder Cesc Fabregas (2R) on his back after scoring the opening goal during the English FA Cup fourth round football match between Chelsea and Brentford at Stamford Bridge in London on January 28, 2017. Glyn KIRK / AFP
Cesc Fabregas insists Chelsea won’t buckle under the strain of Tottenham’s relentless pursuit as the Premier League title race ratchets up another notch this weekend.
With just eight games remaining Chelsea are clinging to a precious seven-point lead over second-placed Tottenham, but the Blues are showing a few glimpses of vulnerability.
Antonio Conte’s side ground out a barely deserved 2-1 win over Manchester City on Wednesday just days after crashing to a shock 2-1 home defeat against struggling Crystal Palace.
Meanwhile Tottenham have reeled off five successive victories, including an incredible escape act at Swansea on Wednesday when they scored three times in the final minutes to clinch a 3-1 success.
With Chelsea playing on Saturday evening at Bournemouth, Tottenham have the chance to turn up the pressure again by temporarily trimming the lead to four points with a win against Watford at White Hart Lane a few hours earlier.
Chelsea midfielder Fabregas admits his team have been feeling the heat lately, but he is confident the way they recovered from the Palace setback proved title nerves won’t trigger a stunning meltdown in the final weeks of the season.
“The result on Saturday put a lot of pressure on us. We know we still have a good advantage, but this is the Premier League and you don’t want to be giving points away, especially at home,” Fabregas said.
“We have character. We can bounce back at anything that comes in front of us.”
The Premier League era is littered with epic collapses from teams who thought the title was theirs and, with Chelsea needing 18 points to be certain of top spot, Fabregas isn’t getting carried away yet.
“We’ve been saying it since the beginning of the season: it’s one game at a time,” he said.
“We have to worry about ourselves, not what the others are doing. As long as we keep winning then we don’t have to worry.”
– ‘Massive quality’ –
Tottenham’s title hopes looked over until Dele Alli equalised in the 88th minute and Son Heung-Min and Christian Eriksen struck in stoppage time to kill off Swansea.
The wild celebrations from boss Mauricio Pochettino, his coaching staff and Tottenham’s players and fans underlined their relief at a result that allows them to continue dreaming of a first English title since 1961.
Having choked last season when they failed to catch champions Leicester in the closing weeks, Pochettino’s side are back in the hunt and Tottenham defender Jan Vertonghen said: “Chelsea look very strong but we can’t stop pushing and dreaming of the league.
“They have a couple of difficult games coming up. We have to keep winning and hopefully they get a bit stressed.
“I don’t know what is necessary to win the league, maybe a bit of luck, but I think this group has massive quality and is very special.”
– Steely streak –
The battle for Champions League qualification via the top four seems certain to go down to the wire.
Third-placed Liverpool, six points above fifth-placed Arsenal, can’t afford another slip when they face Stoke after allowing Bournemouth a late equaliser in a midweek 2-2 draw.
Reds boss Jurgen Klopp urged his team to emulate Chelsea’s steely streak when points are on the line.
“Probably if it was Chelsea for example the opponent would not have the ball three times in the last 20 minutes, I think. We don’t have this experience,” Klopp said.
Fourth-placed Manchester City, who host Hull, are without a win in four games and sit only four points above Arsenal, who have a game in hand and travel to Crystal Palace on Monday.
Manchester United are sixth and head to bottom-of-the-table Sunderland aiming to add to their former manager David Moyes’ problems.
Home draws against West Bromwich Albion and Everton have damaged United’s chances of making the top four and a win at the Stadium of Light is essential.
Jose Mourinho’s side can also push Sunderland — a hefty 10 points from safety — closer to the Championship at the end of a week in which Moyes was forced to apologise after threating to “slap” a female reporter.
Fixtures (1400 GMT unless stated):
Bournemouth v Chelsea (1630 GMT), Manchester City v Hull, Middlesbrough v Burnley, Stoke v Liverpool, Tottenham v Watford (1130 GMT), West Brom v Southampton, West Ham v Swansea
Everton v Leicester (1500 GMT), Sunderland v Manchester United (1330 GMT)
Crystal Palace v Arsenal (1900 GMT)